Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Buster Williams and Al Foster--four
of today's most important and influential jazz artists--have joined
forces as a collaborative group for the first time in their storied
careers and the result is a quartet for the ages.
surprisingly after a half-century of working together in various
combinations, these four masters had never performed together as a
quartet until last fall at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York
City. They electrified the packed house during that run and knew
immediately that they had something special. As Williams remembers,
"Larry called me the next week, and said, 'What do you think about us
keeping this band together?' I said, 'I like the idea; let me talk to Al
and Gary.'" They agreed and the rest was history in the making.
were billed for those first performances as the Larry Willis All-Stars,
and their purpose was to pay tribute to NEA Jazz Master McCoy Tyner. For
artists of this stature to come together with a unified focus upon
another master, that individual needs to be one of enormous
significance; McCoy Tyner is certainly that. Bartz, Williams and Foster
have all played and recorded with the legendary pianist going back to
the '60s and '70s and there's no one more fitting than Willis to capture
both the explosive drive and filigreed subtlety of the master.
another sold-out run in January 2015, the band headed into the studio.
What had originally been intended to be a one-time thing has blossomed
into Heads of State, a stunning new ensemble powerfully manifested by their debut album on Smoke Sessions Records,
Search for Peace.
Tyner concept provides the core for this brilliant recording, not only
titled for his majestic hymnal ballad, but also containing four other
pieces associated with his prolific legacy--two pieces he performed with
the unparalleled Classic John Coltrane Quartet, and two Bartz originals
from Tyner albums on which Bartz participated as a sideman.
Bartz still plays in Tyner's groups on occasion--a relationship dating
back into the late '60s--he has been a renowned leader for nearly as
long. All four of these gentlemen are highly respected in their own
right and have shared the stage with nearly every jazz legend and
heavyweight musician of the entire modern era. Combining that wealth of
history and their individual virtuosity into a synergy and spirit that
provides a visceral group identity makes Heads of State as formidable an
ensemble as any on today's scene. Bartz's fluently articulate and
always inventive alto and soprano saxes are perfectly framed by the
rhythm section, with Willis comping mightily or embellishing subtly as
demanded by the music; Williams' vibrant wood and potent pulse; and
Foster's inspired and sensitively dynamic drumming.
the opening strains of Coltrane's classic "Impressions," it's eminently
clear that the vitality and urgent creativity of the era that spawned
these four giants will be on full display; not only in the fire and
energy of this piece and Bartz's "Soulstice," but also in the relaxed
swing and beautiful balladry that comprises the rest of the album. Of
the former, "Search for Peace" is a lengthy exploration of the classic
paean that is simply exquisite, and Sigman & Russell's "Crazy She
Calls Me" is deeply emotive and poignantly lovely.
are unexpected surprises as well. Billy Strayhorn's heartbreakingly
beautiful "Lotus Blossom" is re-imagined in medium swing on an
infectious bass ostinato without losing any of its haunting eloquence.
Warren & Gordon's "I Wish I Knew"--which Tyner buoyed so appealingly
on Trane's Ballads album--is in an easy groove over a distinctly Tyner-ish vamp.
swing in mid-tempo variations are the order for Jackie McLean's nicely
grooving "Capuchin Swing," airily jaunty on Benny Carter's Summer
"Serenade," and playfully whimsical on Bartz's delectably Monk-ish
This configuration of elder statesmen serves as a salient reminder of what makes jazz such a powerful and poignant art form. Search for Peace
is a compelling beginning for this group, leaving all in anticipation
of what is to come from this newly conceived partnership. As pianist
Ethan Iverson wrote on his blog, Do the Math, "Larry Willis,
Gary Bartz, Buster Williams, Al Foster at Smoke. Jazz like this still
exists? Apparently they are playing McCoy Tyner tunes. Fine. Whatever
gets them on the bandstand together." Yes, jazz like this is alive and
well with Heads of State at the helm.
"Search for Peace" was recorded live in New York at Sear Sound's Studio C
on a Sear-Avalon custom console at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to ½" analog tape
using a Studer mastering deck. Available in audiophile HD format.